This post might upset people, so here’s a video about making money on the internet. Enjoy.
In bloggerland, people are raising the perennial question of being paid for product reviews. “Not Dressed As Lamb” did a well thought out piece on the subject here, and a follow up here. As I didn’t want to hit her comments section with a wall o’ text, I figured I’d tackle my take on it here.
Blogging has been around for 20 years, one of the first being created in 1994, with Steve Gibson being recognized as one of the first professional bloggers…in 1997. This industry has been around the digital world for a good long time, and while like traditional vs self-publishing, it has gone through a number of iterations, a few truths have remained. The first concerns that good old fashioned chestnut of money.
In the beginning, monetized blogs were exceedingly rare. When I started my very first blog in 2001-02, they were an anomaly. The first non-industry (eg gaming, technology) blog I knew that monetized was Dooce, in around 2004 or so. Dooce then kicked off the decade long trend of Mommybloggers, who were focusing their blogs not on concepts or ideas, but rather a general sense of themselves. Now we have a far more niche-based blogosphere, with specific fashion, DIY, parenting, education, etc, as well as general lifestyle/parenting/’personal’ blogs, as well as app-specific bloggers (Youtube, twitter, Dayre, even Vine-only bloggers!).
I told you all of that to tell you this.
The problem with paying bloggers what they feel they are worth is (and I mean this with no disrespect to the community as a whole) – what they feel they are worth is not what they are worth to a brand. Brands began cozying up to bloggers for the same reason every ‘new’ technology gets cozied up to, a brand can save money in advertising. If the newest toy for Christmas wants to hit the eyeballs of parents before they go into a store to shop, they wrangle a few parenting bloggers to do a review, run a giveaway, dedicate a hashtag, and hope for good conversion rates. Make no mistake, PR firms see ‘reviews’ as ‘marketing’, as any blogger who has been around the block knows a bad review means review opportunities dry up, which is why I’ve yet to see a truly scathing review in any modern blog, ever.
In short, bloggers are cheaper than other forms of guerrilla marketing. If another medium comes along that can create the same engagement for less cost to the PR firm/company, bloggers will be dropped – it’s that simple.
The problem comes from supply-side economics and total cost for effort. Let’s take Blogger A and Marketer B. Both need to sell Baby Poops-A-Lot. Let’s see what they go through:
|Blogger A||Marketer B|
|Get specs from company and product||Get specs from company and product|
|Take pics of kid playing with product||Check Big Data for seasonal trends on font, graphics, colour scheme, etc (do focus group if new/innovative product)|
|PicMonkey/Photoshop/edit pics for content, clarity, aesthetics||Get approval on general theme for colours/font/image tone|
|Write copy||Schedule photoshoot for product|
|Insert SEO anchor text as required by company||Send photos to be professionally edited|
|Set appropriate hashtags||Contract copyeditor|
|Schedule post||Do first pass at copy|
|Set up Rafflecopter if hosting giveaway||Get approval for copy|
|Push to social media and regularly remind readers about giveaway||Get digital edits back in at least 4 forms for choices on approval|
|Get approval for images and copy|
|Pitch top 3 combos of images/copy to company|
|If one is accepted, talk to sales about medium being sold in (catalog, newspaper, magazine, digital)|
|If not accepted, back to raw copy and images for new package presentation|
|Continue process till accepted by client company|
|Push to various outlets|
|Contact BD company to run post-purchase focus group to track engagement|
The reason 4 hours of work won’t be paid as a half day of work as in a traditional market is that a blogger would have to do a hell of a lot more high quality work to match traditional marketing. And this isn’t to say that high end bloggers don’t have some great skill sets, but that’s not what a lot of companies are particularly looking for – they want niche eyeballs on page while the pros (marketing companies) handle the general public.
Say I’m a company who wants to push my product to a specific group. I know that there are a host of bloggers who will happily share my product for what is essentially at-cost. I’m not interested in award-winning copy and photos, I just want basic, decent writing, and non-blurry pictures. If someone asked for money to review the product, I would ask myself “Does this person have enough daily eyeballs on their site for me to take a little more out of my budget to appease them?” If my ROI (return on investment) is high enough for that one blogger, sure, I’ll do it. But if that became ‘industry standard’, and every blogger, from the biggest to the tiniest, all wanted money to review? I’d close my wallet and look around for the next set of potential leads (Instagrammers, Viners, etc). Harsh, but true. I’ve watched it happen live as mommybloggers used to rule the roost, and are now relegated to the sidelines while fashion and beauty Youtubers become celebrities in their own right. Sunrise, sunset.
Not Dressed As Lamb seems to echo these sentiments, that having a large pool of people who won’t take payment for what pros will charge is damaging the industry as a whole. In her post she shares a comment from someone who states,
“I had an interesting email recently. It regarded bloggers as journalists in their own right… in effect it is what we do. We deliver written pieces to an audience. A journalist would have a set fee for a written piece. Why do bloggers not? It appears we, as bloggers, are a cheap and effective PR solution”. (Emphasis mine)
My husband works at the BBC, and our friends work both home and abroad in radio, print, and on-camera presenting for news agencies, so I say this with as much kindness as I can: NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.* Our friends who work at BBC and AJE and CBS and CNBC see most bloggers through the same ‘cheap labor interloper’ lens as the newly professional bloggers now view hobbyists. It is bad enough when someone thinks blogging a lot = being professional, it is a whole other level of hubris to suggest someone who is getting the newest Lego playset to ‘review’ (eg talk about in glowing terms) is on the same level as my friends who have to get malaria shots and a flack jacket just to go to work. NO.**
99.9999999999% of bloggers don’t have the training, ethics, standards, and required feedback of journalists. A journalist who gets paid for a piece had to find a story, put themselves often in danger, follow a specific code of ethics to get said story, write the story, have it returned to them full of red ink from an editor, and fix/polish by a hard deadline. When a newspaper, news network, or magazine hires a journalist, they are hiring the years of education, training, contacts, and networks that the journalist has at their disposal. If you asked a respectable journalist to pepper her report from the Ukraine with an anecdote about Daz getting out insurgent blood and how it was the greatest detergent ever, she’d look at you like you were mad. Or, as the darling Harlan Ellison says:
And this is okay! No one is asking bloggers to understand what “lede” or “above the fold” is, or to have a black book of back-alley contacts when they need intel, or to be beheaded in a desert somewhere just for telling the story. Bloggers are offered reviews in an effort to create walking, talking billboards for the PR company’s audience, not be Pulitzer prize winning journos. But that’s also why they don’t deserve the same pay.
I’m all for equal pay. But that includes equal skill sets, equal timelines, and equal taxes (Everyone is itemizing their costs and payments, doing their quarterly self-employed tax payments, and filing all forms to pay into their national social security/pension schemes as well as unemployment insurance, right? Because that is what self-employed professionals do – they fill out that 1099 in the US, and the Queen gets hers every fiscal quarter in the UK, etc). #fairpayforbloggers needs to include fairly similar quality of work offered compared to the pros.
So, how could professional bloggers achieve legitimacy? There could be some sort of oversight body that can guarantee to Company X that the blogger with the seal of approval is trained in the newest methods of SEO, social media steps, copyediting, photography, and of course marketing and networking. Collective bargaining would also need to be enacted so when pro bloggers en masse say they won’t review products for less than price £X, no ‘scabs’ will go behind their backs and undercut them. And then of course would be a consistent, constant, set of standards; hard deadlines, no vacations (The Times don’t take two weeks off every summer, neither can blogs), no social media meltdowns (can you imagine BBC and NPR sniping at each other on twitter all weekend, or calling anyone who criticized their reporting as a ‘hater’?), and in short, being as perfectly polished a brand as the best PR firm out there. If those things happened, then yes, professional bloggers would get equal footing. But the onus is every full time blogger to make that happen, not PR companies.
There are a number of pro bloggers out there who I enjoy – Nate Silver immediately comes to mind – and I hope that any blogger out there who wants to be self-employed will take a page from Mr. Silver’s New York Times bestselling book and follow his professional and personal trajectory. I’ve done this for 12 years, and I enjoy it for what it is – a bit of fun. My goal has never been to blog professionally, so other than this being a long standing hobby (as well as marketing and strategy being the focus of my MBA), I don’t have a dog in this particular fight. And hell, while it would shut down GOMI, I’d love to see bloggers achieve such a high internal benchmarking that they could pass for professional writers/photographers/stylists/chefs/etc even if it’s just a hobby for them. But again, the responsibility lies on each individual blogger who wants to make a living from their site to raise their standards to such a level that a PR firm has no choice but to pay their asking price; until that happens, the #fairpayforbloggers debate will raise its head every year or so, with no resolution.
*Edited for clarity on first sentences of paragraph. See, if I had an editor, that would have come back with red ink all over it!
** All this being said, journalism as a whole doesn’t get a free pass from me – I’ve written before at length at how the 24/7 news cycle ruined in-depth, long form journalism, and how many once admirable journos (*cough* Anderson Cooper *cough*) have fallen to the substandard bollocks that is ‘get the scoop regardless of veracity’ variety. Seriously, Cooper, ditch CNN. You are so much better than them. But as this post was about bloggers, not journos per se, I stuck with them.